GAZALKENT, Uzbekistan -- The flowers brought by mourners for Andrei Shelkovenko, allegedly tortured to death in police custody, wilt in his mother's small apartment. But she refuses to bury him.
His mother insists there will be no funeral until independent specialists conduct an autopsy on her son, who Uzbek officials say hanged himself. Her persistence -- and international pressure -- have caused the government to take what human rights activists say are unprecedented steps to investigate the May 19 death.
''They pressured me to have a funeral," said his mother, Lyudmila Bochkaryova, at her apartment in Gazalkent, an industrial town 40 miles northeast of the capital of Tashkent. ''Without an autopsy . . . he won't be buried."
American and Canadian experts invited by the US-based rights group Freedom House will observe a new autopsy today on Shelkovenko's body, which is now at a morgue in Tashkent. A government panel investigating the death met for the first time yesterday. The US Embassy and New York-based Human Rights Watch also are monitoring the case.
''We were promised access to each and every step of the way," said Mjusa Sever, director of Freedom House in Uzbekistan. Such an examination of the body by outside experts is a significant first. Sever said Uzbek officials have closely watched the US response to prisoner abuses in Iraq.
Uzbekistan has long been accused of human rights abuses, and a UN report last year found torture was ''systematic" in prisons here. Human Rights Watch said Shelkovenko's death was the fifth in police custody it had documented since May 2003.
Other cases have involved the deaths of convicted religious extremists who were allegedly immersed in boiling water at the country's most notorious prison.
Uzbekistan also faces an imminent decision by the United States on . whether it has made sufficient progress on human rights to continue to receive US aid. The State Department said Friday the recurring deaths were ''unacceptable."
Activists praised the move but say it's too early to judge whether those responsible will face punishment. ''We can't really pass judgment on what they're doing until they're done," said Allison Gill, Uzbekistan researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Bochkaryova said she has received phone threats, been confronted by officials, and had agents follow her family since she began filing complaints about her son's death. As a result, she said she planned to request asylum, possibly in the United States.
Shelkovenko, 36, was arrested April 23 on suspicion of a robbery that led to a murder. His 24-year-old sister, Viktoria, saw him six days later, and said his face was swollen and he had a broken jaw and other injuries that he alleged were the result of three days of torture -- being forced to wear a gas mask, beaten with clubs, and burned with cigarettes.
Authorities maintain Shelkovenko -- who had five previous criminal convictions, including on drug and theft charges -- hanged himself in his cell at the Gazalkent police station. Svetlana Artikova, spokeswoman for the national prosecutor-general's office, said the body was returned to the family the day after his death without any other injuries.
The body didn't appear to show any injury to the front of his neck in photographs taken by Human Rights Watch. The photographs do show open head wounds and other bruises and abrasions, as well as black marks and swelling in the genital area.
Shelkovenko's mother said she hoped publicizing his death would prevent other torture. ''I just want to do this so that no other mothers cry, so that I'm the last one that loses a son like this," she said.